Many Atlanta Public School stakeholders have asked district leaders about the Opportunity School District (OSD) legislation passed by the state legislature this past session. The legislation authorizes the state of Georgia, pending voter approval in November 2016, to take control of chronically low-performing schools across the state.
This legislation has been on the minds of Superintendent Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen and members of the Board of Education. Last month they began the important work of outlining the district’s strategy regarding the OSD. The Board and the superintendent believe that maintaining local control of education is critical to our democracy. They also have a collective sense of urgency around implementing a strategy for APS schools to improve at a pace that ensures these schools are removed from the potential state take-over list—should voters ultimately approve the OSD.
An “Opportunity” That We Own.
APS has taken some important first steps toward responding to the OSD; however, district leaders know that the runway is short and more must be done. That is why Dr. Carstarphen has asked the Atlanta philanthropic community for their support, and they have stepped up in a big way. A collaborative of Atlanta-based education funders has come together to engage a local strategy consulting firm to work directly with APS in developing the district’s OSD strategy. The district is very appreciative to have the ongoing support of local foundations who continue to believe in our schools.
This 8-week intense strategy project kicks off this month and will include a robust community engagement component that will consist of surveys, focus groups, town hall meetings, and a community advisory panel to help inform our approach. APS will also be collecting feedback from its teachers and principals, especially those who are “in the trenches” every day in some of our most challenging schools. It is important that whatever strategy we develop does not happen “to” our communities or “to” the dedicated staff members who for decades have been committed to some of our most at-risk schools. APS wants key stakeholders at the table and engaged in this important decision-making process.
If the voters approve the OSD, the state would likely start taking over schools beginning in the 2017-18 school year, and the schools selected would be based upon College and Career Readiness Performance Index (CCRPI) data from the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. At this time, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement defines “failing” as a CCRPI below 60. An eligible school is one with a failing score for three consecutive years. In addition to the qualifying score, takeover decisions also will take into account growth in achievement, recent changes in district and/or school administration that suggest improvement, and current turnaround and intervention efforts underway in a qualifying school.
When one looks at the number of APS schools on the potential OSD list, it is clear APS does not have a day to waste. There are currently 26 APS schools that meet the current criteria, and there are a number of other schools at-risk of eligibility, either because they have one or two years of CCRPI performance below 60 and/or they have historical CCRPI performance close to 60.
Given this context, the Board and Dr. Carstarphen agree that APS must undertake an aggressive, targeted strategy to improve schools that have been identified eligible or at-risk for state takeover by the proposed OSD. The district is in the process of analyzing data, reviewing the challenges faced by each school and community, and assessing the trends in student performance. The plans for each school will be focused on the unique needs of the particular school and community. Our strategy is early in its developmental stages and is informed by case studies of turnaround efforts across the country.
In addition to developing a longer term plan, district leaders have not wasted any time in implementing a few initiatives in time for the new school year. APS has focused a lot of energy this summer on reorganizing the Office of Curriculum & Instruction to build capacity and leadership to support schools, accelerate the pace of improvement and enhance the depth of support to students. In July, the superintendent announced the appointment of a new Chief Schools Officer (CSO), Donyall Dickey. He will be responsible for the operational and academic management of schools and will directly supervise the associate superintendents who manage principals across the district. In alignment with the district’s accelerated focus on turning around underperforming schools, the CSO will be responsible for implementing proven turn-around strategies and will also oversee the successful implementation of signature academic programming within each high school cluster. Our new Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Olivine Roberts, will be responsible for everything else within Curriculum & Instruction, including Common Core implementation, special education, student support services, early childhood education, academic enrichment, etc.
APS has also recruited Dr. Emily Massey, a leader with a record of accomplishment of turning around underperforming schools, to serve as our newest associate superintendent. Dr. Massey will oversee the elementary and middle schools in the Douglass, Washington, and Jackson clusters. She will have a focus on executing transformational strategies in our most at-risk schools.
APS firmly believes that together with dedicated stakeholders, a path forward can be found to ensure community schools remain APS schools. The district knows from experience that for true transformational change to take shape there must be a shared vision and a commitment to do what is in the best interest of students. APS is committed to a child-centered OSD strategy. APS kids are counting on every APS leader, parent and community stakeholder to take bold action on their behalf.
How You can Help
This is where you come in. APS is interested in identifying 10 community representatives (9 clusters and 1 charter) to serve on our School Turnaround Strategy Advisory Committee. Please note that the district is committed to engaging a diverse group of community members, and as such, we encourage you to share this opportunity with concerned stakeholders who have not had the opportunity to serve on an APS committee. Individuals interested in serving on this committee should send a brief email advising us of their interest by 5 p.m. on Friday, August 14.
The email should be sent to the Office of Communications at firstname.lastname@example.org and should include the following:
- School/Cluster with which you are affiliated and how (parent, LSC member, PTA member, etc.)
- Committee on which you wish to serve
- A brief paragraph explaining why you have an interest in serving on this committee